New software from Web security specialists Blue Coat Systems allows companies to restrict what employees can do on their cellphones while logged into the corporate Wi-Fi.
The software, which works with Blue Coat's ProxySG Web filtering equipment, seeks to fill a gap that exists between company-issued PCs, which are often subject to security and access restrictions, and employee-owned cellphones, on which employees are often free to do what they want.
Companies with high security requirements, such as government departments and banks, see mobile phones as a risk because they could be used to leak documents or send confidential data over insecure channels, said Sasi Murthy, director of Web security at Blue Coat.
"A lot of users are trying to send large datasets over the Internet using Dropbox and Yousendit, but these are not secure," said Murthy. "Now, organizations have the ability to extend application-level control to mobile handsets."
Basic "allow or deny" control is offered for applications such as YouTube, eBay, Gmail and business-networking site LinkedIn. More complex controls exist for apps like Twitter: As well as allow or deny, network mangers can switch on or off the posting of messages, sending email, account login and profile management.
"When we recognise new apps, we identify them and push the controls to all new users," said Murthy. "Every month our Web app team adds new apps to our system."
Because the system runs on the corporate network and not the cellphone, the security policies don't affect what users can do when they are on the cellphone network or other Wi-Fi networks.
"This is not about getting on to the device; we're working on that, but this is about what you can do on [the company] network," said Murthy.
The use of employee-owned handsets in the workplace, commonly known as "bring you own device" (BYOD), is increasing, according to an analyst who tracks the industry.
"In my rough, unscientific surveys, I'd say about 60 percent of clients in North America are planning or have BYOD," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst with Gartner in San Jose, California. "It depends on the company. Some of them are in businesses where they are not too worried about information leaking out. Those that need more security, such as financial, health care and the government, need mobile device management tools."
Pricing for the system begins at US$48 per user per year for up to 100 users. That drops to $29 per user per year for organisations with between 100 and 5,000 employees. The ProxySG Web filtering appliance costs $6,500 for the basic model.
Blue Coat is a big player in the Web security and filtering business. It says 97 percent of Fortune 500 companies use its systems, as do many major banks and US government agencies. Earlier this year it admitted its systems were also being used by the Syrian government to censor Web activity, although the company said it didn't know how they got there.